BALTIMORE COUNTY — A countywide organization that functions like a family is helping more Baltimore students graduate from high school than ever before.
The non-profit organization Thread was founded in 2004 by Sarah Hemminger, a Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering graduate student, and her husband, Ryan Hemminger. Their mission since the beginning has been to build relationships between volunteers and young people with the greatest opportunity and achievement gaps.
The Hemmingers felt the need to start Thread because a group of caring people made sure Ryan graduated. After a series of unfortunate life events, Hemminger’s mother lost her job and Ryan performed poorly in school.
After overcoming his own struggles, Ryan realized there are many kids in similar situations today who need an organization like Thread to help them out.
Marie Brown, senior director of communications at Thread, said the non-profit identifies students who are at the bottom quarter of their class when they are in the 9th grade. These students are paired with volunteers for 10 years by Thread to help them get through high school, develop their professional careers and build strong social connections with people within Baltimore County and city.
“We are a relationship-building organization, where we create space for everyone to be in community with folks that may be different from themselves,” Brown said. “With this diversity comes the opportunity for each of us to be seen, heard and loved.”
Brown said Thread focuses less on what scores the students get on tests and how they compare to their peers on standardized tests and more on their own personal and academic growth.
“The link between your personal relationships and your overall health and academic success is increasingly being recognized in the academic community,” Brown said. “We recognized this early on and thus put our emphasis on building trusting relationships first before anything else.”
Students build those trusting relationships with their “Thread family” which consists of volunteers who are willing to help with any aspect of the students life. As the students receive this support the results are clear — they perform better academically.
“Statistically, only 6 percent of this group historically graduates from high school in Baltimore. In Thread, that number is 71 percent, and our overall high school graduation rate is 85 percent,” Brown said. “So we know that having someone in your life that has your back leads to academic success.”
The 6 percent stat is based on students in Baltimore with GPAs of less than 1.0.
Thread students do more than just graduate high school. They continue to pursue higher education.
“Thread students outperform their peers by a factor of 10 and when you look at college completion the trend continues,” Brown said. “Eighty-three percent of Thread students have completed a two or four year degree or certification program. We have a 15 year track record of exceptional academic outcomes driven by young people that many others have said are a lost cause.”
Although Thread has proven to do wonders for students, it benefits the people who volunteer as well.
“One of our board members, a successful executive at a private equity firm, stood up and publicly shared his own struggles with alcoholism and drug abuse and how his relationships in Thread helped him overcome the abuse,” Brown said. “That is powerful for our young people to hear, especially if you are someone who has been told all your life that you are the one in need of help. We try to flip that switch and empower everyone to know that they are both in need of help and capable of helping others.”
Brown said Thread has an “aggressive” plan to connect with 7 percent of Baltimore’s 9th graders. But their plan that may need more volunteers.
“We can’t do this without your help,” Brown said. “For me, Thread has been an amazing place to meet new people of all ages, get outside my bubble, and be part of something much greater than myself. Our volunteer corps is strong and growing and is a great way to expand your community. We welcome visitors at our monthly events and encourage you to take the next step to get involved.”
People interested in being a part of Thread can visit their website at www.thread.org.